By Bill Taverner
I am in Stockholm, Sweden for the next week, joining Dr. Julie Wilgen, who is here on sabbatical from the University of Delaware, to study sex ed. Both Dr. Wilgen and I were asked by the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education to give a 2-hour lecture on Sex Ed in America. (2 hours?? We could probably devote an entire semester and still not cover all the bases.) During the rest of the week, we will tour various sex ed programs and find out why they are stunningly effective. For example, one question we hope to answer – why are Swedish teen birth rates ridiculously lower than those in the U.S.? (See chart).
Now if I were a teen in the USA looking at that chart, I would probably be thinking “WTF?” Sorry to be so vulgar, but American teens have every right to wonder WTF is going on in our nation. That our nation — the most resourceful nation in the world — finds itself with a teen birth rate 7 times higher than our Swedish friends.
As I walked around Stockholm today, I came across some Swedish “house protectors” or tomte. Actually, I came across a whole store of them. (See photos.) The Swedish house protector (tomte or nisse) is a mythological creature of Scandinavian folklore. The house protectors are part of Swedish mythology — owning one will supposedly ward off any bad luck. Many Swedes enjoy the myth, but no one take it seriously here (except maybe the counter guy who was trying a little too hard to sell me one of his elf-like creatures). Learning about this myth made me reflect on our own American myth – that if we don’t talk about sex, teens will never have it. But, while we repeat “Rumpelstiltskin” over and over for good luck, we haven’t been very effective at wishing away teen sex. I am looking forward to examining the ways in which the Swedish society has invested in the health of their young people with successful, complete and accurate sexuality education programs. I’ll be in touch throughout the week.